Reflections on Race Across America

Bear encounters, coyotes, tornados, electrical storms and hospital admissions.. Not quite what we expected when we signed up for Race Across America with Cyclists Fighting Cancer!

Over the past year I have been working with Rich, Mike, Kev and Carol; four cancer-surviving cyclists who were planning to ride Race Across AMerica in the name of Cyclists Fighting CancerCyclists Fighting Cancer is a UK charity who provide children recovering from cancer with bikes to help them with the rehabilitation process. Exercise is important for anyone, and for young cancer survivors a bike can help give independence, a sense of freedom, control and power during a tough period.

Race Across AMerica (RAAM) is a ultra-cycling event starting in Oceanside, California, crossing the States from West to East to end in Annapolis, Maryland. Riders can ride solo, or in teams of 2, 4 or 8 with a team of crew to cater to their needs and navigate them across the countryside in under 9 days. With 3000 miles and 170,000 feet of climbing they call it the world’s toughest bike race for good reason!

While unfortunately not successful in reaching the RAAM finish line this year, we were successful in raising the profile of Cyclists Fighting Cancer (CFC) which was the whole point of attempting the event in the first place.

The Cyclists Fighting Cancer riders at the start line in Oceanside

Leadership and communication

One thing that is clear from both successful and unsuccessful RAAM attempts, is the importance of a good team, a strong leader and clear communication between crew members, vehicles and riders.

We were surprised to discover that the vast majority of the route across America did not have any phone signal or internet access. At times there would be no contact with the ‘outside world’ for hours and hours and hours which can be stressful when trying to make plans between crews. Especially when organising exchange points.

Walkie talkie radios are great to chat between cars – but only really work if the cars are close enough to be seen. Not so great in the hilly mountains where our riders were constantly going up and down.


Catch up time between crews

Sleep

We all knew that sleep deprivation was going to be problematic for everyone. But until we actually experienced it we had no idea what we were up against.

Navigating is tough at the best of times. Add in no sleep and it’s super tough. Simple maths calculations like adding or subtracting a mile when you forgot to zero your odometer at the Time Station become like the most complicated algebra equations when you are sleep deprived.

In the first 48 hour hours, we had one brief stop, but no proper sleep which was a huge struggle for all – mentally and physically. I actually slept outside on a park bench in Arizona for a few hours one evening during our ‘off’ shift as the cars were full of riders!

For future I would advise any RAAM crew and riders to have a good plan prepared in advance about what you are going to do and where you are going to sleep. AND make sure you practice sleep deprivation over a 24-48 period so you can get a bit of a taste for what you are about to experience during the event.

Mike riding through Arizona

 

Practice your racing strategy and have a back up strategy (or two)

The original plan for our riders was to do 15-30 minute shifts. However in the heat of the day with temperatures hovering towards 40 degrees while climbing it suited our riders to do shorter stints. Longer flatter sections were better suited for longer sessions on the bike to avoid riders getting cold. Consider the terrain, the time of day likely to be going through and adapt as you go if necessary!
Having a back up plan in place is also important as we discovered when one of our riders ended up in hospital and wasn’t able to re-join the group. Think about what is sustainable if a rider needs a break, or isn’t able to start exactly on time for their next shift. Again, being adaptable is key!
Meet Ursula the Unicorn

Prepare for the unexpected

You never know what is going to happen during RAAM!

It’s stressful at the time, but I’ve always found that it’s the things that go wrong or seem dreadful at the time that make a trip more memorable.

You can prepare as much as you like, but there’s always going to be things that you don’t expect to encounter. While riding through Kansas, our team experienced insane electrical storms that had warnings of a tornado. Apparently the Irish team rode straight through it, while we had riders sheltered in vehicles, the basements of hotels and even in an abandoned church!

Sometimes it was the wildlife. While the most exotic animal I saw was some wild horses, the other crews saw coyotes, a bear and loads of deer. You never know what they might do, so staying close to your rider is always a good idea and being adaptable and flexible is key to working through these situations.

Wild horses in Utah

Have fun!

Being able to have a laugh and a joke with your fellow crew mates and riders will make the experience SO much more enjoyable and memorable.
Our two teams of riders were split into the Dinosaurs and the Unicorns. It all makes for a good laugh.
The view from car Team Dinosaur

Enjoy the experience, take photos and be a tourist on the odd occasion, laugh at the silly mistakes you make along the way and ultimately remember the real reason why you are doing this crazy event to keep you motivated!

 

Tourist time in Monument Valley!

RAAM take home notes

My ultimate take home notes from crewing at RAAM 2018 with Cyclists Fighting Cancer team is that you can’t under prepare or practice but be adaptable, willing and able to change your plans on the go.

 

Would I crew in RAAM again?

 

Absolutely!

 

Happy Training.

 

Gemma

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